Sunday, September 30, 2012

Women's soccer

Women's collegiate sports too often don't get the attention of their male counterparts. That's unfortunate. Today I took my girls to the UNC Charlotte-Richmond women's soccer game, which was both fun to watch and inspiring for my little AYSO players. My older daughter, who is 8, loves playing the game and soaked it in. Out of nowhere, she said, "This is women's soccer, and I play women's soccer, so I am going to watch their moves and copy them." Exactly.

Plus, it was a gorgeous autumn afternoon and we won 2-0, so it was win all around.


Friday, September 28, 2012

Listening In

Tuesday, November 12, having difficulties in Latin America or the Alliance for Progress. The Argentines threatening to expropriate our oil. The Brazilians, the Brazilian [João] Goulart, ignoring the Alliance for Progress. Obviously, both playing a very nationalist game. And then the rumor that the Dominican Republic may break relations with us. They're irritated with the United States for not recognizing and making their lot more difficult. All this is, indicates a rising tide of nationalism and a lessening of their dependence upon the United States. In addition, they have a radical left who [unclear] at home, so that our lot becomes more difficult.

John F. Kennedy dictated that privately on November 12, 1963, only ten days before he was assassinated. It's part of a series of recordings he made, including conversations, that are in the new book Listening In: The Secret White House Recordings of John F. Kennedy. Very cool book, which includes quite a lot on the Cuban Missile Crisis.
That particular quote is interesting for a number of reasons.

  • Latin America was weighing on his mind. He did personal dictations on issues that he was really concerned about. We tend to view the Cuban Missile Crisis as a US-Soviet problem, and he had a lot of other global problems on his plate, but clearly he saw serious problems on the horizon in Latin America that required his attention.

  • The concerns are so similar to today, though fortunately we don't have the Cold War framing it. But the "lessening of dependence" and fear of "a radical left" are echoed all the time now.

  • LBJ rightly is criticized for his aggressive stance toward Latin America, but JFK was thinking about the same problems. JFK was unhappy about Goulart and had a wary eye on the DR. He almost certainly would've followed the same path in Brazil (strong support for the coup). Would he have invaded the DR? Given how shaken he was by Cuba, it's entirely possible.

The book comes with CDs, and for the excerpt above he sounds incredibly tired, talking slowly and without enthusiasm.


Hispanic voters in NC

I've noted this before, but I keep wondering why very reputable analysts and media drastically overstate the percentage of Hispanic voters in North Carolina. From Latino Decisions:

Today Latinos in North Carolina make up slightly less than three percent, or 182,000 of the electorate.  At first sight this may seem insignificant, but given that the presidential candidates are within three percentage points of each other, Latinos voters will be critical to swaying the election one way or another.  For months President Obama has trailed Romney in the state, but if his campaign can maximize Latino voter mobilization and turnout, then he just might again win North Carolina by the skin of his teeth.

I went to the North Carolina State Board of Elections website, which has statistics updated through 9/22/12, just six days ago.

Total registered voters: 6,454,075
Total Hispanic registered voters: 102,282
Percentage of Hispanic voters: 1.6%

Can this constituency make a difference in the presidential election? Possibly, but the argument above about 3% just doesn't hold water.


Latin America and the Illusion of Peace

David Mares' Latin America and the Illusion of Peace (2012) makes the case that although Latin America is often touted as more free of interstate war than any other region, there are a host of militarized disputes that are serious but fall short of war. He details a number of them, such as Venezuela-Colombia, Ecuador-Colombia, Nicaragua-Costa Rica, Bolivia-Chile, and UK-Argentina.

What would be great is a model to go along with the narrative. He discusses the likelihood of militarization in a number of interesting cases, what works as deterrence, and how they might likely be resolved, but doesn't quite put together a model to explain all of them. I would love to see all the variables assembled together outside the cases.

Nonetheless, the book serves as a good reminder about how conflict short of war is quite prevalent. He counts 21 unresolved interstate disputes in Latin America, any of which could escalate. Militaries are not commonly used for territorial acquisition, but they are used as threats to enhance bargaining positions.


Thursday, September 27, 2012

Cuban Missile Crisis contest

Check out this contest about the Cuban Missile Crisis, the 50th anniversary of which is coming up soon.

Contest Question:
What can statesmen learn from the most dangerous confrontation in human history to better address challenges of war and peace today?
  • Participants submit an original lesson from the Cuban Missile Crisis that answers contest question.
  • The text of the submission must be no more than 300 words.
  • When writing lesson, participants should try to distill lesson into one topic sentence; remainder of submission should provide supporting evidence and argument. (See below for an example.)
  • Entry must be original, not merely repeating a lesson already noted by analysts, scholars and statesmen in the past.
  • When constructing your lesson, please reference the list of lessons catalogued by the Belfer Center to ensure your lesson’s originality.


Theory and policy

Stephen Walt has a blog post and a longer article on the importance of connecting IR scholars to the policy world. With the latter he is referring not only to policy makers but also to those--NGOs, for example--that are involved in the policy process in some manner. I agree with many of his assessments and prescriptions, as I am a strong believer in the idea that there is considerable value in making research and scholarly expertise as widely accessible as possible.

There is a strong but false dichotomy between theory and policy. If you are doing research in comparative politics or IR, why not get more people to know about it? Part of the problem lies in the unfortunate perception that writing for a popular audience is "journalism" while peer-reviewed articles are "scholarly." But if you are doing peer-reviewed, scholarly work, then what you write for a popular audience carries more weight precisely because it is based on something really solid. This can mean blogging, but it can also mean writing for policy journals, writing op-eds, getting quoted in the media, taking leave to spend time in government, etc.

There are, I think, signs that things are changing. When I started blogging in 2006, the debate centered on whether junior faculty should blog at all. I don't hear that much anymore. Many, many faculty have little idea what blogging actually means, or how it connects to research, but I feel they are less likely to instinctively view it as evil. After all, bloggers like me are now becoming department chairs.


Wednesday, September 26, 2012

More on Romney and Latinos

We're seeing a spate of op-eds about how Mitt Romney can increase the number of Latinos voting for him. They all point to roughly the same conclusion: embrace immigration reform. What's bizarre, though, is the almost lack of recognition about the political consequences. Michael Gerson tosses this off at the end of his column:

The Republican embrace of immigration opponents will eventually deprive every other element of conservatism (pro-defense, pro-life, pro-business) of national influence.

That's it. No big deal, just deprive your base of its influence. In essence, then, he is explaining precisely why Romney likely won't do so well.

The rubber will hit the road, so to speak, during the debates. Romney's message is that President Obama has failed at immigration reform, and that he can do it. He will then be challenged a) about congressional Republican resistance to immigration reform; and b) the specifics of his proposal. His answers to a and b have a good chance at alienating his base.

In short, Romney will have to calculate the net gain of voters. Increasing the share of Latino votes means losing votes elsewhere. But how many?


Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Countering Iran in the Western Hemisphere

Back in March I noted the introduction of H.R. 3783, the Countering Iran in the Western Hemisphere Act of 2012. It has now passed the House by voice vote under the direction of Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and so moves over to the Senate. My appraisal was that it had a good chance of passing, and that I hoped it would become less unilateral in its final form. Gathering information is a good idea, but forcing things down Latin America's throat is not.


Obama, Chávez, and Undecided Voters

There is one way that the Venezuelan presidential election can be usefully compared to the one in the United States: the puzzle of undecided voters in a polarized electorate. If the two political poles seem so far apart, and the ideological position of each candidate is quite well known, then why have people not decided? In the Venezuelan case, which is more polarized than the United States, upwards of 20% may be undecided. In the U.S., that number is more like 6%.

Part of the answer for both countries can be found in this discussion from Ezra Klein.

Washington has been a bit perplexed by President Obama’s small but persistent lead in the polls. His administration would seem to fail the “Are you better off than you were four years ago” text. And presidents who fail that test lose, right? 
But perhaps that’s the wrong question. We focus on the question “Are you better off than you were four years ago” because we assume voters aren’t sophisticated enough to vote based on the right question, which is “are you better off than you would have been if the other party’s candidate had won the presidency four years ago?”

This doesn't just help explain Obama's (or Chávez's) lead. It also tells us something about why people are undecided. They know the incumbent very well. They are perhaps not as familiar with the opposition candidate, but after months of campaigning at least are acquiring a pretty good sense of where he stands ideologically.

They also know they're not as satisfied with the incumbent as they'd like to be. Some key problems (e.g. crime in Venezuela or the economy in the United States) haven't been resolved. So they are open to the opposition candidate. The problem is that they're not sure whether he'd actually have solved these issues if he had been president.

Without good answers, a surprising number of people can't make up their minds. They may, in fact, just stay home on election day. The silver lining here is the implication that, especially in the Venezuelan case, there are more moderate voters than we tend to think. In both countries, all candidates are trying to balance the need to energize the base with gobbling up these undecided voters who lean more toward the middle. In both countries, that balance is not easy.


Monday, September 24, 2012

More Latino health paradox?

Laura McKenna points to the data showing that less educated whites are actually living shorter lives than before, and asks why Hispanics are doing so well. Here's the chart:

One possible answer is the Latino health paradox. For years researchers have noted that recent immigrants--precisely those without a high school degree in the chart above--from Latin America have better health outcomes than virtually anyone else. There are a variety of potential reasons. Immigrants tend to be healthier because that is required for migration; those who are less healthy are less likely to migrate in the first place. Diets tend to be better, with less processed foods (though sadly that is changing across Latin America).

It's reasonable to argue, then, that the high rate of Latin American migration since the 1990s served to improve life expectancy numbers (by, for example, having lower rates of infant mortality). As the rate of migration slows, as is happening now, we would expect the difference between Hispanics and other groups to narrow because acculturation and assimilation gradually lead people to take on the same bad habits as native-born Americans (both white and black).


Saturday, September 22, 2012

Robert Harris' Imperium

Robert Harris' Imperium is a historical novel focused on Cicero. It doesn't have a plot per se; instead, it follows Cicero's rise to prominence as a lawyer and ultimately consul. One point Harris seems to be trying to make is that politics doesn't change much. It was hard not to see, for example, some of George W. Bush in Pompey, as he used war as an excuse to seize greater executive power.

Toward the end of the novel these historical parallels reach almost comical levels. Cicero is shocked to learn that a rival, Crassus, has a hidden alcove where a secretary secretly writes what is going on in his meetings.

"You mean to tell me that Crassus eavesdrops on himself?" asked Cicero in wonder. "What sort of statesman would do that?"

Richard Nixon, no doubt, would've been a first-rate schemer in ancient Rome.

As historical fiction goes, it is not exactly a page turner but it definitely brings Rome to life. It prompted me to dig out an old Penguin Classics book I had of Cicero's writings, bought in college and not much touched since. I can't say much bad about a novel that makes me look up other books.


Romney and Latinos

I'm quoted in this story on Mitt Romney and the Latino vote. He has changed his mind quite a lot since a year ago, seemingly oblivious to the fact that the entire country is aware of it.

What's clear, though, is that Romney sees an opportunity to scoop up a few more Latino votes, or at least get conservative Latinos to vote rather than sit at home. He does not see them as part of the 47% who are already dead set against him. This counts on voters consciously not caring that he is saying very different things in the past year, and forgetting the red meat lines he fed to anti-immigrant crowds during the primaries. Hard to see that working too well.


Friday, September 21, 2012

How not to understand the Venezuelan election

This article in Forbes by Doug Schoen about the Venezuelan election is quite bad. I will just copy the first paragraph and let you find the errors of fact:

There is a crucial election about to take place in Venezuela. Basic issues of freedom and economic liberty are at stake for the Venezuelan people. And with Venezuela being both our largest oil provider and a chief anti-American aggressor with alliances in Iran, Syria and Russia amongst others, this election is not only critical for us but much more so than policymakers in DC have acknowledged or realized.

If you need help, look here and here (for the latter, see how many times "Venezuela" appears).


Thursday, September 20, 2012

Brazil Truth Commission

Brazil's Truth Commission will only investigate abuses by the military government. Of course, the military is not happy.

Retired military officers criticized the announcement, saying the panel must also look into violations committed by leftist guerrillas who opposed the regime. 
Retired admiral Ricardo Antonio da Veiga Cabral said by telephone that the commission's decision will result in an "unfinished, one-side investigation in which only half the truth will be known." 
"Crimes were committed by both sides, so both sides must be investigated," he said. 
Retired officers often express the opinion of the armed forces since military personnel are prohibited by law from doing so publicly.

Actually, including opposition abuses helps the opposition because there are so few in comparison. In the case of Guatemala, for example, you get the following:

  • "State forces and related paramilitary groups were responsible for 93% of the violations documented" (Final Report, English Version, para. 15).
  • "Insurgent actions produced 3% of the human rights violations and acts of violence” (Final Report, English Version, para. 21).

In other words, this emphasizes the overwhelming state role and prevents the military from falsely claiming that both sides were relatively equal.

Update: for a different view, see Colin Snider.


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Harassment of Latinos in NC

This is just too depressing. The Justice Department concluded a two year investigation of the sheriff's office in Alamance County (not too far east of Charlotte). Its letter of findings shows intentional, open and unconstitutional harassment of Latinos, then threats against people who were willing to talk about it. This is exactly why "papers please" policies are so fundamentally wrong. Officers tried to arrest as many Latinos as they could, targeting certain neighborhoods for traffic stops on the basis that "most of them drive without licenses." They would stop Latinos for minor traffic violations and then arrest them, allowing everyone else to get off lightly. People who appear "American" don't get questioned about anything, even without ID, but if you look "Latino" then you have to prove you're in the country legally.

Keep reading. The Sheriff referred to Latinos as "taco eaters" and looked down on them for their cultural and moral inferiority. The whole thing is horrifying.


Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Duddy on Venezuela

Patrick Duddy, former U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela, has a policy memo at the Council for Foreign Relations. He lays out potential for violence surrounding the upcoming Venezuelan presidential election, and calls for U.S. action if that occurs.

The United States could encourage other Latin American militaries, as well perhaps as the Spanish, to communicate to the Venezuelan military the importance of complying with constitutional mandates, respecting human rights, and preserving democracy. While Chavez loyalists dominate the Venezuelan high command, it is not clear to what extent they control the middle ranks. Nor is it clear to what extent the military's loyalty to Chavez's Bolivarian movement would trump other considerations. In the abortive coup of 2002 the military temporarily removed Chavez but also restored him to power 

Leverage defense department contacts in Latin American and Spanish armed forces to communicate to the Venezuelan military leadership that they are obliged to uphold their constitution, respect human rights, and protect their country's democratic tradition.

This is a very bad idea. Meddling with the Venezuelan military--indeed, threatening it--will not serve the interests of the United States, and certainly will not serve the interests of the Venezuelan people. It is egging on civil war.

Duddy has a variety of good ideas about regional response if the elections are clearly fraudulent (though, as we know from the recent Mexican election, this is often in the eye of the beholder) but encouraging violence will not reduce violence.


Monday, September 17, 2012

Juxtaoposition: Bolivia

From the 2012 State Department International Narcotics Control Strategy Report:

Although Bolivia’s eradication program is meeting its stated targets, when taken as a whole, Bolivia's eradication and interdiction results have not been sufficient to adequately reverse high coca cultivation and cocaine production levels. Bolivia's policy to consider 20,000 hectares of coca cultivation as licit, its intention to enact legislation to legalize the entire 20,000 hectares, and its withdrawal from the 1961 Convention contribute to the international view that Bolivia's efforts to meet its international CN obligations were insufficient.


From the BBC:

The United Nations says the production of coca leaves - the raw ingredient for cocaine - in Bolivia has dropped significantly over the last year. 
The area used for cultivation of coca in the South American country is down by 12%, according to a report by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. 
This is the first such drop since President Evo Morales, a former coca producer, came into power in 2006.


Sunday, September 16, 2012

Copper law update

I am trying to polish final revisions to a chapter in a book on the Concertación years edited by Peter Siavelis and Kirsten Sehnbruch. My contribution is on the military, and as it turns out my discussion of the copper law hinges on discussions occurring right now. The lower house passed a reform proposal in June.
At this point, it appears to be a matter of ironing out nuts and bolts. One key point is legislative oversight. Ideally, the final bill should give broad powers to discuss in detail--and with power to chop, at least to some degree--why certain budget items are necessary, how to oversee them, and how to evaluate them.


Friday, September 14, 2012

Paying Attention to Latin America

In a seemingly endless cycle of uselessness, President Obama once again responds to critics who say he's not paying enough attention to Latin America by saying he is. This goes in permanent circles because no one agrees on what "attention" actually means.

Roughly speaking:

Conservatives tend to define attention in two ways. First, by working aggressively against Venezuela and Iran's presence in the region as well as the rise of countries like China (call it "Monroe Doctrine attention"). Second, expanding free trade agreements and capitalism in general. The Obama administration has already indicated that the former is an overblown threat, and argues that passing the Panama and Colombia FTAs is a sign of commitment to the latter. Conservatives disagree, saying Obama waited too long and now is passive.

Presidents often define attention as travel. George W. Bush--also often accused of "losing" Latin America--did the same. Obama's response yesterday was that "I expect to travel there again." Both White Houses periodically trot out the number of visits they've made to Latin American countries.

Liberals tend to define attention as  focusing on threats to democratically elected governments and human rights. The 2009 coup in Honduras is a prominent example for which Obama receives criticism. Of course, conservatives view this in diametrically opposed terms, by framing Honduras as a case where beleaguered and valiant democrats fought against the insidious and tentacle-like influence of Hugo Chávez.

What's notable here is that no one is happy with Obama's Latin America policy (or Bush's, for that matter). As with immigration, Obama's effort to chart a course down the middle ends up alienating all sides.


Thursday, September 13, 2012

Piñera numbers

The Instituto de Investigación en Ciencias Sociales of the Universidad Diego Portales published a new national survey of Chileans. It ain't pretty for President Sebastián Piñera. Some highlights:

--30% of people who voted for him regret it. Those who are poor regret it more than others.
--He has a 29% approval rating
--47% believe he's done a worse job than Michelle Bachelet
--Government in general has a 17% approval rating
--Political parties have a 4.4% approval rating

Michelle Bachelet was able to weather disaffection with her coalition and leave office on a high note. Time is really ticking away for Piñera to do the same. And Chile continues to be a country where GDP growth does not correlate to presidential popularity, since growth has been pretty good. That makes it even harder to figure out how Piñera can improve his image, or whether it's even possible.


Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Resource Nationalism in Latin America

Just a quick addendum to my post yesterday about the failures of anti-imperialism. The Financial Times discusses how despite all the pro-nationalization talk around Latin America, state companies are increasingly looking for private investors. It could in fact be a win-win situation. Latin American governments are requiring more control over natural resources, but still need foreign cash. They can't beat 'em, so they join 'em. Meanwhile, transnational corporations see such big dollar-signs in these sectors that they are not scared off by the rhetoric and by the reduced profit margin.

The partnership is likely to be marked by some mutual suspicion, but if output increases, government revenues go up, and private companies make money, then everybody's happy.


Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Quote of the day: Venezuela

‘‘This government imports gasoline from the United States and says it fights against imperialism. It imports rice from the U.S. and it says that it has gained its independence,’’ he told a cheering crowd.

Henrique Capriles on the campaign trail. It's a theme that is too little examined in the U.S. media. Hugo Chávez depends a lot on the United States even as he lambastes it (and vice versa!). In 2002 the U.S. imported $10 billion worth of Venezuelan crude oil, and in 2011 that had increased to $36 billion. U.S. foreign direct investment totaled $13.7 billion in 2010, and was the United States' 26th largest goods export market in 2011.

At best, then, Venezuela is only marginally more economically independent from the United States than it was when Hugo Chávez took office. If the fight against imperialism entails economic independence, then it's not working.


Monday, September 10, 2012

Immigration and cost

The U.S. decided to end the one-way immigrant flights into Mexico, which were intended to send undocumented immigrants a long way from the U.S. border. One silver lining out of an otherwise badly damaged immigration system is that the government does stop things that are too expensive and/or don't work as planned.

“Everything comes down to dollars and cents,” said George Allen, assistant chief of the Border Patrol’s Tucson sector. “We’re running into a more budget-conscious society, especially with the government.”

This also happened with virtual fences. Bureaucracies fight to keep their programs because they justify budgets, so at the very least it's good to see programs ended when they don't make sense anymore.


Saturday, September 08, 2012

FARC talk

Adam Isacson points to a paper he published nine years ago about the peace process in Colombia in 1998-2002. Much of what he wrote is still relevant. The FARC hates the Colombian elite and wants a piece of the corruption and political power that elite has held for many years. The U.S. government officially gave positive statements but criticism came from Republicans in Congress (such as Roger Noriega, then working for Sen. Jesse Helms). Conservative sentiment remains rather World War IIish in style, seeing the drop of an atomic bomb and unconditional surrender as the essential model of conflict.

One difference with the current iteration is the perception of who is winning. At the time, the FARC believed it was winning on the battlefield and so did not need to concede much of anything. They can't think that now, but how much will that matter for concessions? Presumably that will make the FARC more willing to negotiate, but it is still quite strong militarily. It also means that President Santos has refused to agree to a ceasefire.

Another difference is the use of Hugo Chávez. At the time he wanted to play a role and was shut out. Now he is part of the process, as of course is Cuba. The entire process is more likely to succeed if he feels he has a stake in making it work, even if many in Colombia and the United States view it as unpalatable.


Nicaragua in WHINSEC

Mike Allison notes that Daniel Ortega announced Nicaragua would no longer send soldiers to WHINSEC. He made fiery comments that would've been appropriate in the 1980s but make quite a lot less sense now. I also wondered why it took him three years in the job to suddenly come to this realization.

I've noted this before, but the WHINSEC debate suffers from an almost total lack of recent analysis. As the School of the Americas, there was concrete evidence of anti-Marxist indoctrination that bordered on hysteria and which gave clear signals to governments and militaries that human rights abuses were acceptable byproducts of an existential fight.

That's no longer the case, but even studies like Lesley Gill's tend to keep looking back rather than going in-depth on what the school does now. Indeed, having just lectured to Latin American military officers, I can tell you that some classes in U.S. schools involve having American scholars go in depth about the threats that the military can pose to democracy in the region. So what classes are soldiers taking there, and what are they being taught?

There could well be good reasons to close WHINSEC, but we need more than just what happened there decades ago.


Friday, September 07, 2012

DREAM Act in the campaign

What a difference four years makes. In 2008, Barack Obama and John McCain largely agreed about immigration and so it was rarely mentioned after the conventions. Now, as the speeches at the DNC made clear, Obama and Biden plan to hammer Romney and Ryan on the DREAM Act. I would expect to hear a lot about it in the next two months, for several inter-related reasons.

First, it is very popular nationally. Poll after poll reiterate that fact. It is a no-lose issue for Obama.

Second, it gives the Obama campaign an opportunity to paint Republicans as out of touch with the mainstream. The message from Joe Biden's speech last night was that Romney was a nice guy but didn't get it. I expect the same for the DREAM Act.

Third, every time Romney is forced to explain his position on the DREAM Act, he will lose some Latino votes. It is just very hard to convincingly paint people who entered the United States as 5 year-olds as lawbreakers who need to be deported. Every effort to do so implicitly labels Latinos as lawbreakers.

I was asked by a reporter about the chances of the DREAM Act being passed in the next four years. I actually think the chances are quite good, especially if Obama loses. Opposing it hurts the Republican Party, and many of its leaders know it (and publicly say so). If Romney wins, then of course he campaigned against it, but his view has softened considerably since the beginning of the year. I could see him tinkering with it at the edges, then proclaiming his support because it is somehow improved from the Democratic version.


Thursday, September 06, 2012

Cuban Latinos

Yesterday at the DNC one of the reporters I spoke to was with Radio Martí. Of course, she was interested in the "Latino" label given how Mexican Americans, for example, have different policy priorities than Cuban Americans. This is an especially important point to keep in mind given the Electoral College, since Florida is worth 29 votes.

Florida used to be a bastion of pro-Republican anti-Castro votes, but that has been changing. Obama has a lead among Latinos in Florida, though Romney polls much better there than he does nationally. Nate Silver currently gives Obama a 62% chance of winning Florida. Despite efforts by conservatives to paint Obama as soft on Cuba and Venezuela (including the Republican platform itself) U.S. policy has not changed much since the latter years of the George W. Bush administration. Plus, of course, demography matters since young Cuban Americans have less direct experience with the Cuban revolution and are less hard line.

The long-term dilemma for the Republican Party, then, is that its conservative Latino base will gradually shrink as the Cuban revolution becomes less relevant politically. Indeed, if there is a Cuban Spring and elections are held, that will be a disaster for the Republican Party. For more than a generation, Fidel Castro has helped produce many conservative Latinos.


Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Foreign Press Center

I had a really cool opportunity today as someone at the State Department invited me to brief foreign journalists at the DNC about the Latino vote. So this afternoon I made my way downtown to the convention center where the journalists are located (a colleague advised me where to park, which turned out to be much easier than I had feared). The scene outside was an odd combination of festival and security--live music, minor protesting, and guys from Men in Black everywhere. Entire streets are fenced off and the police do their best to look as unfriendly as possible.

Inside the Foreign Press Center it felt like a class lecture because I stood at a podium in front of about 40-50 journalists, made some opening remarks, then took questions. Then I took follow up questions individually with people from a number of different countries. Ultimately I also did TV interviews with Australians, Colombians, and Georgians. Really a once in a lifetime experience (unless they bring the DNC back here after this bad weather).

There were journalists at tables with laptops everywhere in an emormous room. It was a reminder about how important U.S. presidential elections are--for better or worse--all around the world.


Walk the democratic immigration plank

The platform of the Democratic Party has a lot on immigration, so much that I won't bother pasting it here. There is however, a bit of disjuncture. So there is this:

Our prosperity depends on an immigration system that reflects our values and meets America’s needs. But Americans know that today, our immigration system is badly broken – separating families, undermining honest employers and workers, burdening law enforcement, and leaving millions of people working and living in the shadows.

And then this:

Today, the Southwest border is more secure than at any time in the past 20 years. Unlawful crossings are at a 40-year low, and the Border Patrol is better staffed than at any time in its history.

The latter is part of what is causing the former. A long-held message of the Obama administration is that it is holding up its side of the enforcement bargain while Republicans block broader reform. Yet the intense enforcement without reform creates even more family separation, law enforcement burden, etc.

Even so, Democrats can simply point to the Republican platform, which stands well to the right of mainstream public opinion on immigration. For many voters, it may well be a lesser of two evils issue.


Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Latinos and the Electoral College

“If Texas becomes a blue state, it will become blue because of the Hispanic vote,” said Gilberto Hinojosa, the Texas Democratic Party chairman. 
“And the day that Texas becomes blue, it becomes mathematically impossible for Republicans to elect the president of the United States,” he said.

This is a very evocative--and provocative--way to think about the political demography of the Latino population. The article gets the electoral numbers a bit wrong, but if Texas voted democratic, then TX+CA+NY = 122 electoral votes, and that is a huge amount.

A key point here is the future, which is why demography is so critical. The population of the United States is changing, and many people--especially young people--who cannot currently vote eventually will start doing so. If the lopsided support for the Democratic Party persists and the Republican Party remains schizophrenic with its position on immigration and diversity, then the Electoral College will gradually become the Republican Party's worst enemy.


Electoral reform in Chile

Over the years, the Chilean binomial system is one of those things that I blog about periodically but which never changes. Now apparently there are 10 members of the conservative UDI ready and willing to do so.

The challenge of electoral reform, though, is that you cannot simpy abolish something because you need a replacement all set first, and as yet there are a lot of proposals but no consensus. That debate is still quite young.

One of the last times I blogged about it, Sebastián Piñera was saying it wasn't a priority. Two years ago I wrote that there was a really good chance it would be reformed. Oh well.


Sunday, September 02, 2012

Latino vote in NC

The Los Angeles Times takes what I would call a feeble stab at understanding the dynamics of the Latino vote in North Carolina. What really got me was the refusal to use data. For example:

North Carolina has an estimated 100,000 registered Latino voters, according to census data, though other groups say the number could be almost twice that.

No one should quote vague "others." Instead, take a few minutes and find the exact, updated numbers at the NC Board of Elections.

The overall argument is that the Latino vote, despite being very small, can be important when the margin may well be thin. Fair enough, but there is no mention of a) how small it is compared to other groups; b) the dynamics of mobilizing the African American vote vs. the Latino vote; and c) the challenge of getting Latino voters to the polls since they are much less likely to vote than anyone else.

Instead, a few random people are interviewed and all of their words taken at face value.


Saturday, September 01, 2012

Latino biases

Ann Romney's comment that Hispanic voters need to get past biases shoved on them by Democrats is, I think, a good indication of why Republicans are finding it so difficult to gain traction.

It really is a message that would resonate well if they could just get past some of their biases that have been there from the Democratic machines that have made us look like we don't care about this community.

You catch more flies with honey, as it were, and this comment is the equivalent of bumbling around the room with a flyswatter. You don't gain votes by telling people they're easily brainwashed and cannot determine their own self-interest on their own.

Even worse, Romney and others are making these comments in the context of a convention that adopted an aggressively anti-immigrant platform. The biases to which she refers, then, are rooted in very public declarations by the Republican Party itself, and not by any magical brainwashing machine.


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